Friday, 6 July 2007

NRIs - Don't Count Them Out!
by Som Vishwakarma
June 7, 2005

Do you know what some of the prominent Indians like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Subhash Chandra Bose, Rajeev Gandhi, Babasaheb Ambedkar, Chandragupta Maurya, and Dr. Manmohan Singh have in common? They were all NRIs who went abroad, learned a new perspective and came back to serve their country. The Indian freedom struggle was led by people who learnt about freedom not in India but in England or America! Dr. Babasaheb Ambedker in his own words breathed the air of freedom for the first time when he went to Columbia University in USA. He liked the feeling and wanted to bring it back to millions of people in India. Chandragupta Maurya lived in Afghanistan for many years before he came back to Bihar and overthrew the evil King Nanda. Dr. Manmohan Singh learned economics in London and spend many years abroad perfecting his art as a World Bank executive. They all went abroad weaker and came back stronger!

In engineering, when you are designing a building, a bridge or a dam you draw it from various angles and ‘views’. Similarly to gain a correct perspective of the place you are living at, you need to see it from various angles/projections inside as well as OUTSIDE. I think one reason why the people mentioned above made a difference to India was that they went abroad, learnt from those societies, got an external perspective and looked at the bigger picture. Do you know that some 200 years back the Japanese Emperor of that time sent his wisest men to the west to live in America for a long time so that they can learn from the western people and come back smarter and teach their own people? Today the open-minded thinking, equality in their society and the spirit of enquiry in the Japanese is the same as Americans. The Japanese accept this fact and don’t lie that their thinking was always open. They boldly say that they learnt the spirit of enquiry from the Americans even though Japanese have a more ancient culture.

Have you wondered why Gujaratis are one of richest communities in US, Sikhs in Canada and Punjabis/Sindhis in UK and Marwaris through out India? Why did the British rule the world? It’s because they were brave and they wandered out of their own safety zone, took up brand new challenges and progressed. Kerala was the poorest state in India when we gained Independence in 1947, since then by taking up jobs across the world the Malayalees have send back money and built their state to be the most educated in India. Do you know that almost all of India's foreign currency reserve is made up by money sent back by people working abroad and not by Indian businesses? In case the Indians stop sending the money our economy will collapse and we will not be able to buy oil/petrol. Remember what happened around 15 years back when Chandrashekhar was the PM, India has to mortgage it’s gold reserves to buy oil and pay foreign debt!

Till recently very few upper caste Biharis were venturing out of state so you kept on hearing that Bihar is the greatest since it produced Ashoka, Buddha and Mahavir some 2500 years back! The lower caste people who went out saw the difference between working for a Zamindar in Bihar and the freedom for working for someone in Punjab, Maharashtra or Gujarat. But they couldn’t do anything in their native state because the people in power had vested interest in portraying that their state is the greatest since it’s been ‘managed’ by ‘great’ people like them. But now everybody is going out of Bihar and learning the truth about Bihar by knowing the other side. This is a good thing since now we have a benchmark (other states/countries) to compare ourselves against, identify our weakness and find a solution to them.

One of the key things that happen when people go out of their state is that suddenly they realize what their roots are. They start bonding with their own kind. Suddenly an upper caste Bihari meets a lower caste Bihari as an equal, which is a person from same state and sharing the same culture. Had they stayed in Bihar they would have been sworn enemies.

One of the biggest changes that happen when a person moves out is how it affects his individual personality. People who venture out shed the feeling of negativism and learn to be more bold, brave and self-confident. They learn to be more resourceful as well as be respectful of what they have.

In ancient India we used to have gurukuls so that student can leave the comfort of their homes, go out and stay in the jungle and learn about life. That is the reason why even today in IITs, even if you are from the same city you have to stay in the hostel rather than stay at your home. Going out increases your horizon and everyone should strive to do it. I encourage parents who try to protect their children by shielding them to let them go out and learn from the world. At the same time the people who are not so brave need to learn to be brave and venture out. Remember the biggest risk is taking no risk at all and the biggest ignorance is closing your eyes and mind to knowledge.

But people who have achieved big when they move out should treat their position as one of responsibility. They should educate the people who are left behind regarding what you have learnt and try to give back to the society. Today a reverse brain drain is happening from USA to India. Tens of thousands of professionals who have gone abroad are coming back to India. They are coming back with great expertise and money, contributing to India from knowledge as well as economic point of view. The overseas Chinese are the biggest and most important investors in China, the same is happening to India. The question is, is India ready from them? Is it going to learn from them or envy them and hate them for no apparent reason than their success? In case it learns from them then the affect of the knowledge gained abroad will be multiplied and many more people will be exposed to it. This will make India ‘truly’ great rather than ‘imagined’ great!

I am a Patna'ite and an American who will like to contribute more to the society in Patna, Bihar. I truly believe that NRIs have learned some good things in the west but many have simply not changed at all. They basically live in their own "Indian World" especially in Europe. In addition, I do not believe that a place like Bihar is ready for NRIs and their way of thinking. I am not talking about NRIs who are driving taxis and cleaning hotel bathrooms in Europe or America. I am talking about NRIs who have education and are working in influential positions throughout the world. The fact of the matter is that the European and American world is so different with law and order, civility (although cases of racism exist), and the notion of live and let others live that I find it hard to believe that some Indian will like to go back to live in India. It is a different thing if they have strong love for culture or family or other reasons. Otherwise, from women's rights, to child labor to prostitution, the west is a better place and I will argue it everyday.

It should be noted that the NRIs were not given the voting rights and the right to fight elections or hold political offices in India. Why? It's simple. NRIs are looked upon as someone who are polluted and will pollute the whole culture. That they will not represent India's true interest and quite frankly, they can challenge the Indian political system which is full of corruption, greed and criminals. As much as I do not want to discredit NRIs, I do not believe they really want to do much with India. I have high connections in places and I myself wanted to bring some development in Bihar (specifically, Patna) through businesses and multi corporations. However, how can I approach any serious business leader to invest any money in a state where exists no law and order where corruption is like plague and politicians are wolfs under human skin? Unless, Bihar brings rule of law and ends criminal and gundaraj, nothing good can be brought to this place. For me and for many Indians I know, India is good to talk about in tea parties and dinner tables but we don't want to live there or get involved deeply with business or politics. My definition: It's a great country with great people with the most corrupt politicians and the biggest mockery of public administration. As an NRI, I believe that India is great because of its history, culture, diversity and of course the people. The rest is legend. - Aamir, New York - June 7, 2005

The mid-1990s, saw several additional measures, largely fiscal, to attract NRI investments. Yet, NRI investments were a miniscule of what came from the other foreign investors. By the turn of the century, the government had opened up just about every sector to NRI investments and extended fiscal concessions on a par with those enjoyed by nationals. But NRI investment inflows stood at $ 2.5 billion during 1991-2001 as against $ 14.5 billion brought in by other foreigners during the same period.

Other foreigners have more confidence in India than NRIs. Does that not speak volumes for their love for the country.

And yes, $ 2.5 billion in ten years in all sectors combined!!! Does that cover the cost of oil India purchases?

India spent Rs. 104,604 crore (Rs 1046.04 billion) on importing 87.4 million tonnes of crude oil in April-February and also imported 7.7 million tonnes of products for Rs 12,581 crore (Rs 125.81 billion) as per Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar.

All the above mentioned figures are perfectly verifiable. Let us not distort the truth to score points.

$ 2.5 billion in ten years or $ 0.25 per year is not even a peanut for a country like India.

Now a tirade will start about infrastructure and return on investment, law & order etc. etc. Do you think of returns when you buy clothes for your family? We were talking about love for the country, perhaps.

A true case of imagined greatness. - Rajesh Chaubey - June 7, 2005


Dear Mr. Som,

Very good points raised by you. NRIs played pivotal role in development of the of the country many times in the past and can play in the future also. India is on the path of progress, at least particular segment of the society doing great and set standard for the world community. In other sectors also, development has started showing visible presence and affecting world economy. But the situation in Bihar is pathetic, looks no sign of development in almost all fields not only because of political reasons but also because of lack of co-ordination, mutual trust, class and caste war and other evil, dangerous viruses. Time has come to unite.

In my view, Bihar is well known for the hub of technical brains, paradise for the intellect, and center for learning religious values and cultural ethics since ancient times. This must be retained and regarded by us. I do strongly feel that there should be co-ordination, co-operation and active association of intellectuals from India and abroad who are concerned with the development of state, come forward for establishing R&D center and business houses, share your views on different tech topics/developmental projects, and help scattered young brains for building their career strong.

Keeping the same thing in mind, I started an organisation called With support and contribution from NRIs, intellectuals from Bihar living in different parts of India and abroad, we are establishing NGOs and first Biharbrains scholastic center at Patna (Shanti Maitri bhawan, BM DAS Road, Patna) and some welfare schemes and developmental projects.

Please come with your ideas, projects and discuss with fellow members and implement them in Bihar. - Bibhuti Bikramaditya, Seoul, South Korea - June 7, 2005


Many thanks to Som Vishwakarma for writing a wonderful, thought evoking and interesting article! Specially his understanding of the richness of Marwaris, Punjabis and Gujaratis is like a discovery to me. Sindhis returning from Pakistan also did very well, while we Biharies never ventured into any challenge at all. Thanks to ugly politicians and their goons who have forced us out of our own Bihar, and we have developed our love for our Homeland, ethics, equality, knowledge, and a sense of well being (without any division of caste, religion or anything).

Many times I have felt that if an electricity generating plant is run and supplies electricity to people as an effective business, and will not only supply electricity but blood into the economics of the state. It will also have blessings of all Biharis.

Farmers will benefit when they need to water their farmland in drought, residents will be able to better tolerate the tough weather conditions, businesses would prosper, etc.. etc. In short, electricity is to society as oxygen is to life.

Can we, with our love for Bihar take a bold step, instead of only spinning great thoughts?

We can take up all the work that is needed to make the electricity reach the end users. We can have the already laid-out wires on rent from the government, and lay new cables where needed.

We will obviously need to invest ourselves to a degree that we want to. We will need knowledge, technical and non-technical, and I assume we either have that or we can acquire.

Think of Bihar where electricity remains 24x7x365. Startup Call-centers and technology firms need not be opened only in metros, they can run from sleepy small towns such as Darbhanga or Saharsa!

Hope I don’t get beaten for daring to dream, but I see no other way out! - Ranjit - June 7, 2005


I want to correct the statements made by Shri Rajesh Chaubey. The NRIs in Gulf countries starve but send back money to their families in India to build houses, get an education and live a better life. The people from the Gulf countries alone remitted more than $8 Billion last year. But this ‘remittance’ is not counted as foreign ‘investment’ and so people like Rajesh Chaubey are misguided. This remittance comes in as hard foreign currency and is an investment since the entire clan of the NRI is benefiting from it getting better education, health care, standard of living. No where is this more evident then in Kerala where most of the richness comes from money sent from abroad every single month. Go to Delhi, Pune, Bombay, Chandigarh, Kolkata or Bangalore and see for yourselves how NRI are sending back dollars and buying all the expensive flats and hence pumping foreign exchange into Indian economy. Even in Bihar, where people go to other states of India to earn a living the Bihari economy as quoted by the finance minister of India is being run on ‘money order’ economy. Biharis working outside send a money order to their family every month that buys food, pays for the house rent and send the kids to school. Shri Som Vishwakarma is correct; most of the foreign exchange in India comes from NRIs though not necessary as direct industrial investment but as a remittance to their families. - Rajesh Sahu, Manchester, UK - June 8, 2005


Thanks a lot to Mr. Som Vishwakarmaji. You had initiated a very good topic! And, thanks to Bibhuti Bikramadityaji too for giving us INFO about I think the right time is coming soon for the developments of Bihar. And, nothing is impossible if we are united and working hard to improve the pathetic situations of Bihar! - Neerja Mishra, Pleasanton, CA - June 8, 2005


Aamir has boldly said, what the 'baya' bird told the monkeys when they were soaking in the rain. Aamir has shed political correctness for blunt truth. I admire his courage. I am sure the monkeys will try to demolish the house (viewpoint) Mr. Aamir has built

A lot of people who are not even living in Bihar themselves raise their hackles on this issue. In my mind, if you are not in Bihar, it does not matter if you are in Calcutta or California. - Arecee - June 8, 2005


When we talk about NRI in India the first thing that comes in mind is high rising buildings and flashing cars. That's how people in India (no matter which state you go) people look at you. If you are a NRI then people treat you different from themselves and for everything you say, there will be a sarcastic comment that "We live in India and you don't, so you don't know this", which at times does not make one feel comfortable especially in their home (country).

NRIs as such want to do something for their country. But there are many factors involved in it along with being patriotic or have feelings for something to do back home.

1. Huge market. Everybody in the world knows that if someone has to make money then India is one of the emerging market with lots of untapped potentials. The other significant markets are US, Japan, China and some parts of Europe. But except China none of them have a huge population like India.

2. Cost of Living: The factor which is attractive most of the investment towards India these days is Cost of living, which is much more less than average cost of living in any western country.

3. Publicity and Fame: Some people do something for just to get some name and fame. - Samir Kumar Mishra, Australia - June 8, 2005


Dreaming Bihar to be like America is not an impossible dream; it's just possible but we need to have a little less of people who would like to think or talk about India/Bihar just in tea parties or dinners and less of people who think that folks staying out of India owe to Bihar and responsibilities lied on their shoulders only.

Thankfully we have such columns that lets us know what kind of people exist and that will at least help us understand how many people will Bihar need to fight back to at least reach the threshold of minimum development. We should, however, not get personal when we are thinking of our state or country or continent or our mother earth. The goal should be Bihar, how to uplift it. The dirty politicians are the result of uneducated, underdeveloped society; we have more of uneducated people than any other states. Someone is right in saying that people are scared to invest in Bihar due to the filthy situation of law and order. But can we, the educated mass, get together to start removing it instead of talking about it in our tea parties? If people don't want to go back to India, it's fine but if they can talk in tea parties they can do a little more by sending some money to India per month to get the maid's children in their home (in Bihar) or their relatives' home educated. It will cost them just one day pizza in a month.

Mr. Chaubey's remark is good statistically, however, he should realise the cause of the problem instead of stating it who will know India better - a foreigner or an Indian.
The investment from foreigners are coming because of the vague picture they have about India after meeting intelligent Indians there. People who already belong to India do know the reality so might hesitate in investing in Bihar. Investment come in other places like Gujarat, Maharastra but not to Bihar, Orissa or any northeastern state.

Bihar is not the only state so poor and paralyzed. The existing situation cannot be dealt in haste neither can it improve in a day. It will take a new generation to start took more than 100 years to get rid of the foreigners, how long will it take to get rid of the citizens who are eating the country away on the basis of caste and religion? At least America doesn't have to fight the religion, so might be it was easy for it to develop. Indians need to respect humanity before Ram, Rahim or Jesus. The problem can be solved by education - not the one which makes people engineers or doctors or MBAs but the one that Mr. Som had talked about in his earlier article. Let's discuss how to solve the problem of education and population, this will help those of us (staying in Bihar or outside) to really come up with some feasible solution. Just firing at each other with comments wouldn't help. We need actions and not mere advices. - Rashmi - June 8, 2005


With a massive majority of illiterates and a democratic form of governance, we can never hope to have the people of our choice elected in Bihar. The only hope of salvation for Bihar is if the Kerala example is repeated. - Rajesh Chaubey - June 8, 2005


I think it is very good that Indian people work abroad. Every time an Indian takes up a job in a foreign country he creates an opening for the same position in India. I will take my own example, I joined my employer in India when someone working in my position quit and took up a job in USA, then I also quit and joined a company in UK so my former employer has to hire one more person. This helps in getting more people employed. - Rajesh Sahu, Manchester, UK - June 9, 2005

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